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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th May 1965.

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Photo of Mr Terence Boston Mr Terence Boston , Faversham 12:00 am, 13th May 1965

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that point, because I intend to deal with it briefly in a few moments. It is important to bear in mind that this proposition would endanger the revenue of local newspapers and affect their circulation. This might conceivably create a dangerous monopoly, for instance, in a certain area. Many areas have only one newspaper. If a station were to be run by that one newspaper, it would create a dangerous monopoly but still affect the circulation of the local newspaper.

Newspapers would certainly benefit if these stations were run non-commercially, whether by the B.B.C. or by another independent body, because they would not be competing with advertising; the newspapers would derive benefit from their reporters or commentators appearing on the programmes and conducting interviews. As is the case with national networks, no doubt local newspapers would be mentioned on the stations. Therefore, they would be helped to some extent.

Here, again, I utter a word of caution. Great care would have to be taken about political balance in people appearing on local stations. The experience of the national broadcasting services is an important guide.

I come now to the question of monopoly. This is the question whether the B.B.C.'s monopoly of sound broadcasting should be broken. If local broadcasting stations are to be set up anyway—let us say, for the sake of argument, commercially—a local sound monopoly is being created in fact, unless there are two stations, either two commercial stations or one station run by the B.B.C., say, and one run by a commercial set-up.

The difficulty about that would be that we want more choice, as has been suggested earlier; but it would be difficult to run more than one station locally and provide an adequate amount of material. It is important to bear in mind that, whether a station is to be run by the B.B.C. or commercially, the public pays in the end and it will cost twice as much in the end to set up a whole chain of double stations in all these towns which we are suggesting. This is why there need be no misgivings about this. If it were decided to break the B.B.C.'s monopoly of sound broadcasting, a local monopoly would be created anyway. Therefore, one would be getting nowhere by breaking the B.B.C.'s monopoly. There are many counter-balances within the broadcasting organisation which can help in the running of local stations.

It has been suggested that the way out of the dilemma whether there is a commercial set-up or whether there is a B.B.C. or other independent broadcasting set-up is to have local stations run by local authorities—that is, by locally elected authorities, local universities, and so on. The difficulty about this is that there is probably not a great deal of professional broadcasting expertise in the local authorities and other organisations which have been suggested. Such professionalism is essential in local broadcasting stations. There is no reason why the suggestion of local authority control should not be considered, but there are serious objections to this way of doing it.

I should think that in view of the various reasons suggested, and particularly in view of the point about what is to be done with the hours of time after the five hours, probably the most satisfactory solution is to have local stations run by the B.B.C. But these other suggestions have been put forward and no doubt will be considered by the Government in the course of the review which they are now undertaking.

There is no doubt at all that there is a real demand for local broadcasting. The increase in capital costs, as opposed to revenue costs, is a matter which means we ought to get on with this very quickly. Finally, and perhaps the most important reason of all is that as this is a field which we have not developed at all, and apart from colour television is the one remaining which we can develop in this country, it is one which we ought to get on with urgently.